The botanical name of marijuana, weed, grass, marihuana, or the numerous other nicknames it is referred to on the street is cannabis. Indigenous to Central and South Asia, the three major sub species of cannabis are Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. In discussing marijuana, it is helpful to understand the differences among these three sub species of Cannabis.

Cannabis is a versatile plant. Most people associate cannabis with marijuana and drug usage. But tall growing varieties of the cannabis plant , commonly called hemp has been cultivated for centuries to produce a number of industrial and foodstuff products such as rope, fabrics, pulp, paper, hemp seeds and hemp oil sold today in health food stores, wax, resin, fuel and even cosmetics. Industrial hemp was a valuable crop used all over the world for its strong fibers and oil seeds until the early 1900s. Today, particularly in the United States, there is a negative perception of the hemp industry because of the misconception of hemp being associated with the drug, marijuana. Under federal law it is not legal to grow hemp in the US and any imported hemp products must meet rigid USDA standards. However, in the states of Colorado, Vermont, California, and North Dakota laws have been passed enabling hemp licensure. All four states are presently waiting for permission to grow hemp from the DEA.

Cannabis also has a long history that dates back thousands of years for being used for medicinal purposes. Today, cannabis along with its constituent cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN), tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), and cannabigerol (CBG), is used as a medical therapy to treat disease or alleviate certain symptoms. Most notably, medical marijuana is used to reduce the common side effects of chemotherapy treatment nausea and vomiting, to treat pain and muscle spasticity common with multiple sclerosis, and as an effective option for pain relief and to stimulate appetite for people suffering from AIDS. A number of advocates for medical marijuana stare that cannabis provides a treatment option for individuals who do not respond or respond inadequately to the therapies currently available. As of 2014, twenty states and DC have passed laws permitting the sale, and use of medical marijuana.

Although marijuana has been used as part of religious or spiritual ceremonies for centuries in sects within Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Sufism and a variety of other religious groups, perhaps the most notorious use of cannabis is ingesting or inhaling it recreationally for its psychoactive and physiological effects. Using cannabis as a recreational drug can heighten a person’s mood of well-being or euphoria, create relaxation, and increase a user’s appetite. On the other hand, some people who use marijuana may experience some undesirable side effects such as dry mouth, impaired motor skills, the reddening of the eyes, a decrease in short-term memory, and feelings of paranoia or anxiety.

In the United States the use, sale and possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law. As of 2013, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 substance, the most tightly restricted category reserved for drugs, which have “no currently accepted medical use”. However, there are many organizations, individuals, as well as medical professionals, scientists, and even states legislatures that are challenging the federal laws advocating instead for sensible drug policy reform. As of 2014 there are twenty states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, in addition to Washington DC that have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana. And there are two states, Colorado and Washington that have enacted laws to allow distribution of marijuana for recreational use. This is a move that marijuana advocates hailed as a historic shift in the cannabis paradigm. The times are a changing.

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